The 106th Congress, the longest Congress ever, ground to a conclusion last week. The Congress acted in a "lame duck" session after the fall congressional elections and passed various miscellaneous bills, including an omnibus appropriation bill funding projects and activities throughout the country. Contained in the final legislative package were measures addressing cruise ship pollution in the marine waters of Alaska and a watered down version of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.
The measure addressing cruise ship marine pollution was obviously necessary in light of the well-documented examples of illegal and harmful dumping by cruise line vessels in the waters of Alaska. Sen. Murkowski took the lead in addressing this problem and worked diligently and thoughtfully with the governor of Alaska, conservation groups in Alaska and "outside" as well as the cruise ship industry, federal agencies and other interested organizations. The measure Congress finally passed halts dumping of untreated sewage in the coastal waters of Alaska by the cruise ship industry and mandates treatment of so-called "gray water" prior to discharge. The legislation also establishes a mechanism that will lead to establishment of critical areas where no discharge of marine waste is allowed by cruise ships.
Enactment of the provisions addressing cruise ship pollution shows that concerned citizens can act with members of our congressional delegation and the governor in a non-partisan manner for the benefit of the environment and our state. Frank Murkowski, Tony Knowles, Ted Stevens and their respective staffs deserve thanks from everyone in Alaska who cares about clean marine waters and a healthy environment.
Sens. Murkowski and Stevens and Rep. Don Young also deserve thanks from all Alaskans for advancing the Conservation and Reinvestment Act during the lost Congress. This legislation will insure that additional revenue generated by resource development will be available to states and local governments to fund parks, trails and other recreation projects in our nation. The version of the act that was finally rolled into the omnibus spending legislation passed by Congress was substantially watered down from the version Murkowski and Young had moved through their committees. The diminishment of the measure had to do with paranoia on the part of a narrow group of so-called property rights advocates and a few western senators and representatives. Even though diminished, the final measure will benefit Alaska and improve parks and public facilities throughout our nation. Long-delayed construction of trails, nature centers and urban parks would take place under the measure advanced by Young and Murkowski and passed with the political clout of Sen. Stevens.
Few Alaskan residents would characterize any member of our delegation as "environmental" and I don't think nay of them has undergone a massive transformation in a green direction. Still, the delegation did well for all of us and the environment with these two topics, and they deserve credit and thanks for a job well done.